Who was Daniel Pearl? Pakistani court orders release of men who allegedly beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter
On Thursday, December 24, a Pakistani court ordered the immediate release of four men accused of orchestrating the 2002 kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, including Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the main suspect earlier sentenced to death for masterminding the killing. “All the petitioners ... shall be released from jail forthwith on the receipt of this order, unless they are wanted in any other custody case or any order against their release has been passed by the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan,” the court order read.
Sheikh was arrested days after Pearl's kidnapping and later convicted of the murder by an anti-terrorism court. He had been on death row since the conviction. As per Reuters, in April the same court — the Sindh High Court — commuted the death sentence of the main suspect, Sheikh, and acquitted three others citing a lack of evidence against them. Pakistani authorities, however, kept the four in custody for the last eight months, citing reasons of law and order. As per reports, the April court order has been challenged by the government at the Supreme Court. Pearl’s parents have also petitioned to overturn the decision to acquit the suspects.
Who was Daniel Pearl?
Born on October 10, 1963, in Princeton, New Jersey, Pearl was an American journalist for The Wall Street Journal. Working as the South Asia Bureau Chief of The Journal, based in Mumbai, India, Pearl, as per his Time magazine obituary, made his name in the paper writing "A-heads" — the quirky and colorful feature articles that run down the middle of the paper's front page.
Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi on January 23, 2002, as he was pursuing a story about Islamic extremism — investigating into the alleged links between British citizen Richard Reid and Al-Qaeda. Lured by the promise of an exclusive interview, he was taken hostage by a militant group calling itself The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty.
This, despite the fact that when his intermediary suggested a meeting at a restaurant in Karachi, Pearl, as per the New York Times, took the precaution of calling several of his contacts, including a security expert at the United States Consulate, to ask their advice. The consensus was that there seemed little risk as long as the meeting was confined to a public place.
The group gave the US two days to meet its demands, which reportedly ranged from freeing all Pakistani terror detainees to releasing a halted US shipment of F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistani government. "We give u 1 more day if America will not meet our demands we will kill Daniel," said the message. "Then this cycle will continue and no American journalist could enter Pakistan," along with a photo of Pearl, handcuffed with a gun at his head, holding up a newspaper.
Nine days later, the terrorists beheaded Pearl. On February 21, 2002, a video was released that documented this horrific act. During the video, Pearl said, “My name is Daniel Pearl. I'm a Jewish American from Encino, California, USA. I come from, uh, on my father's side the family is Zionist. My father's Jewish, my mother's Jewish, I'm Jewish. My family follows Judaism. We've made numerous family visits to Israel.” Following these statements, Pearl's throat was slit, and his head was severed. On May 16, his severed head and decomposed body were found cut into ten pieces, and buried, along with an identifying jacket, in a shallow grave at Gadap, about 30 miles north of Karachi.
Pearl's widow, Mariane Pearl, wrote the memoir ‘A Mighty Heart’. The book was adapted into a film starring Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl and Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl.